20.3.20

YOU’RE IN MY HEART – ROD STEWART with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra


On the opposite side of the road to where I get my hair cut in the Surrey village of East Horsley is a Woking Hospice charity shop where I used to take resilient clothes that no longer fitted our kids. I sometimes buy used CDs there for just £1 each and one day last week I came across this, still in its cellophane wrapping, ie brand new, which is most unusual and wouldn’t have pleased Rod had he been shopping there for cut-price CDs too.
         I used to love Rod Stewart’s music. Gasoline Alley was a fixture on my turntable around the time I joined Melody Maker in 1970, swiftly followed by Every Picture Tells A Story, the album that personifies Rod in his pomp. I tended to prefer his folksy songs over the rock’n’roll covers, songs like ‘Only A Hobo’, ‘Reason To Believe’ and the perfection of ‘Mandolin Wind’, but those first four solo albums were all gorgeous, simply devoid of duff tracks, and it seemed to me that his use of mandolins echoed the pastoral feel of The Band, rivalling even the exquisite ‘Rockin’ Chair’ from their second album. Rod wasn’t prolific but what he did write was thoughtful, homespun and, like the covers, always in the best possible taste.
         I just about wore out his first four solo albums and while the first three Faces albums could be a bit patchy the best tracks were as good as Rod’s. Things started to slip with Smiler (1974) where quality control was lacking somehow, and although the love songs he wrote on subsequent LPs found a ready audience with his female fans I lost interest as he morphed into a flashy rock’n’roll playboy, all loud clothes, yellow Lamborghinis and leggy blondes.
         I met him several times in the early seventies. Hed paid his dues the proper way, rising up from the clubs, but he was a bit of a cocky bugger, a sort of cross between a cockney Jack the Lad (which he wasn’t, of course) and a canny Scotsman (which he was, sort of) whose wallet remained firmly shut at all times. I’d been a big supporter of The Faces, writing glowing reviews of shows in both the UK and US, and he seemed well disposed towards us on Melody Maker, not least because he won the Top Male Singer award in, I think, 1972, and came to the presentation. He liked to be the centre of attention. He wallowed in applause.
         He had a house at Windsor around that time and occasionally dropped into the Fox & Hounds, a pub in Englefield Green, near Egham, where I once lived and still had friends. I used to go back there from time to time to see them and one night I was there when Rod turned up. He wasn’t expecting to see me and looked at me warily, as if I was stalking him, which I wasn't of course. Unlike in rock environs, chance encounters between music writers and rock stars like this, in out of the way places, can be slightly awkward, as was this. I watched as people bought him drinks and he invariably asked for a large brandy, but he never bought one back which caused a bit of muttering amongst the locals. I suppose he was used to lackeys buying him drinks and had difficulty adjusting to a different environment. That night when he left the pub he found he’d left the lights of his Lamborghini on and the battery was flat, so he went back into the pub and asked for a push. No one volunteered and there were a few smirks but I felt a sort of filial duty to someone from what was now my world and went outside to take a look. Of course there was no way in hell that one person could push a Lamborghini, even a yellow one, so he had to get a cab back home and, presumably, return the following day with a mechanic.
I think there was a touch of the emperor’s new clothes about the way in which his relationship with the press deteriorated. He didn’t like criticism. The last time I interviewed him was in a big hotel suite New York in 1974, when Smiler came out, and he was on the defensive, perhaps sensing that the tide was turning and the goodwill he’d enjoyed from the press was at an end. In the past he’d been chatty, friendly, but now he was behaving as if he expected the interview to turn into an argument. “Well, what do you want to know?” he asked when I switched on my tape recorder. He was unnecessarily abrupt, almost aggressive, and I’d been a supporter. He didn’t trust us writers any longer.
         The only Rod Stewart music I’ve listened to in the past 30 years has been the triple CD-set Reason To Believe which includes his first five solo LPs and a few bonus tracks. The acquisition of You’re In My Heart last week wasn’t an introduction to later songs, of course, because they’re everywhere and, truth to tell, the orchestration suits songs like ‘Tonight’s The Night’ and ‘You’re In My Heart’. ‘Maggie May’, which opens the set, is the only Rod standard with newly recorded vocals. It begins serenely, the first verse taken as a prelude, before settling into the familiar rhythm as the morning sun shows your age. Drums aside, the backing track from the song that topped the UK and US simultaneously is replaced by chunky strings and not until the slide guitar solo and a trace of mandolin during the false ending are we back in the summer of 1971. It is pleasing to note that Rod’s pipes are up to a more than passable reproduction of his vocal from that year.
         Rod duets with Robbie Williams on ‘It Takes Two’, turning it into a full tilt rock’n’roll song in which the strings are largely drowned out by electric guitars. At an overlong 4.27 it isn’t a patch on Marvin and Kim Weston – their classic version was only 2.56, incidentally – the Motown spring is missing, and couldn’t he have found a girl to sing with? Tina? Adele? The perfect fit would have been Amy Winehouse of course.
         Thereafter, until the final track, we are in familiar territory, Rod evidently having decided it was unnecessary to record new vocal tracks to ‘Sailing’ (cheesier than ever), ‘Reason To Believe’ (delightful), ‘Handbags And Gladrags’ (lovely), ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (ok, if you like that kind of thing), ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (ditto), ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ (nice but no improvement on the [wonderful] original), ‘You’re In My Heart’ (see ‘Tonight’s…’), ‘I Was Only Joking’ (ok, but a bit long), ‘Young Turks’ (surprisingly rhythmic), ‘Forever Young’ (schmaltzy, with Rod’s amended Dylan lyrics still an irritation), ‘Rhythm Of My Heart’ (forgettable) and ‘Have I Told You Lately’ (lovely, though I prefer Van). The final track is a new song, ‘Stop Loving Her Today’, a tender weepie about blighted romance in the style of his arm-waving ballads.
         As a general rule overdubbed strings on existing vocal tracks seem to me like extreme repackaging. I heard – but didn’t buy – some of the Elvis tracks that were orchestrated a year or two ago, largely because it was mostly ballads and my Elvis is rock Elvis. Mostly out of curiosity and because I’m a big fan, I bought the Beach Boys with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra CD but, in truth, didn’t think the orchestra added much to Brian Wilson’s superb productions anyway. Rod’s excursion into this world, perhaps predictable after his Great American Songbook albums, is the best of the three and for £1 at a charity shop I’m not complaining. But where was ‘Mandolin Wind’?

11.3.20

SHE’S A RAINBOW: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF ANITA PALLENBERG by Simon Wells


The perception of The Rolling Stones in the Sixties was as much about attitude as it was about the music they created, and for this reason Anita Pallenberg was as much a member of the group as Mick, Keith and doomed Brian. She embodied all that was subversive about them – the feisty glamour, brash impertinence and haughty dismissal of conventional values, the kind of behaviour that grabbed headlines in the voyeuristic tabloid press, especially when something went wrong, like police intervention or death.
         “She, Mick, Keith and Brian were The Rolling Stones,” states Stones PA Jo Bergman, in She’s A Rainbow, Simon Wells’ new biography of Pallenberg, pragmatically acknowledging that Charlie and Bill were on a different wavelength. “Her influence has been profound. She keeps things crazy.”
         Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones’ manager concurred, as did Anita herself. “I feel as though I’m like the sixth Rolling Stone,” she said. “Mick and Keith and Brian need me to guide them, to criticise them and give them ideas.”
         Keith might, at a pinch, have conceded the point but I somehow doubt that Mick, who always seemed like the kind of man who preferred his women under his thumb, would agree. Nevertheless, the role of Anita in fashioning the image of The Rolling Stones between 1965, when she turned up on the arm of Brian Jones, and the mid-1970s, when her relationship with Keith Richards began to deteriorate, is the key point of interest in this book.
         Wells’ 2011 book Butterfly On The Wheel systematically and with great flair dissected the Great Redlands Bust, and he has chosen Anita as his next subject in an ongoing interest into rock and roll subplots that now include Charles Manson and The Who’s Quadrophenia. Pallenberg, born in 1942 of German-Italian ancestry, was a model, actress, muse and mysterious siren amidst the Stones’ harem of influential women; spectacularly beautiful in her prime and, quite appropriately in the light of this book’s title, something of a rainbow, strikingly colourful, hard to catch and likely to vanish into thin air in a jack flash.
         Published in hardback with a cover featuring Pallenberg dressed only a man’s shirt, her uncovered legs parted and a look of defiance in her eyes, She’s A Rainbow could be mistaken for a top shelf item but Wells makes it clear from the outset that Anita was no groupie or passive rock chick. He is especially good on her early life and on her films, which he writes about at length as befitting an expert on cult movies of the period. Much space is devoted to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, Anita’s most celebrated role, which featured an on- – and perhaps off- – screen dalliance with Jagger, a cause célèbre that lingered within the Stones’ clique like a disagreeable fungal infection.
         As you would expect, the period when she was part of the Stones inner circle is covered in great detail, as it was at the time, particularly the 1967 holiday in Morocco where Pallenberg switched her affections from Jones to Richards, and the stay at Nellcôte, the mansion at Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice where the group’s masterpiece, Exile On Main Street, was recorded. Charged with maintaining the domestic requirements for a household that sometimes numbered 20 or more, the multi-lingual Pallenberg displayed uncharacteristic catering skills that rivalled Mrs Bridges in Upstairs Downstairs.
         Moving to Westchester County in upstate New York by the late seventies, Anita and Keith grow apart. Keith blamed her for the Toronto heroin bust that almost saw him jailed and sees other women. She puts on weight, flirts with the New York City punk scene and when a teenager is found dead at her house in 1979, her world comes crashing down. Addicted to just everything possible, she roams New York and becomes an embarrassment before finally returning to London, cleaning herself up and taking a course in fashion and textile design at Central St Martin’s so as to become a costumier. Eventually her legendary status is acknowledged by the Britpop crowd, she gets pally with Kate Moss and is much applauded at an emotional re-appearance on the catwalk.
         Inevitably the book suffers from the ‘not much to say about the later years’ syndrome insofar as once Anita is back in London she spends the rest of her life not doing very much that attracts headlines, which translates as not doing very much that Wells can write about. Indeed, the final chapter opens on page 267, around 1980 when she’s 38, and she dies a mere 18 pages later, on page 295, aged 75. It’s kinda sweet that in her twilight years she became a keen gardener and tended an allotment at Chiswick.
         It was certainly an extraordinary life but Anita Pallenberg is a difficult prey to catch, as elusive as a butterfly, so for all his prodigious research and the wealth of information contained within his book, Wells hasn’t quite captured her spirit. Then again no one really could, though Keith Richards came closer than most.

9.3.20

THE INTERNETTES


Famous for having rudely dismissed Led Zeppelin’s first two LPs in Rolling Stone, John Mendelsson somehow avoided being hexed by their touchy guitarist but probably still watched his back when we last dined together, in 2004 in Holland Park, a stone’s throw from The Tower House. The occasion was to celebrate the publication of his Omnibus Press book Waiting For Kate Bush which opened with an unlikely story about a Bush fan threatening to throw himself from a tall building unless Kate herself appeared to talk him down. Eventually a policeman who was also a fan appeared on the scene and, after a conversation about the arcane tributaries of her career, he came down without the need for La Bush to rouse herself. The originality of this approach persuaded me to sign up the book.
         I first became aware of John through The Kink Kronikles, a 1972 double compilation LP which he compiled on behalf of the group and for which he wrote some of the best sleeve notes you’ll read anywhere. Deliberately eschewing their earliest singles, it remains the most thoughtful Kinks collection ever assembled. He was also partial to The Who, at least until they became a stadium band, and gave a helping hand to David Bowie before anyone else in America knew who he was.
         John also belongs to that bold assemblage of music writers who juggle a musical career with occasional blasphemous ravings in print and lately he’s pressed me into service to draw attention to The Internettes, a duo that comprises himself and his partner, Dame Zelda Hyde, who sings while John does everything else, writing the songs and arranging them.
         Now in the normal scheme of things your man at Just Backdated is likely to ignore such requests but the truth is I was charmed by the songs and, if you’re prepared to overlook the rather amateurish backings tracks – probably sourced from one of those electronic keyboards that do everything if you press the right buttons – you might as well.
         Showing impeccable taste, Dame Zelda has a strangely deep, slightly melancholy voice and manages to sound like a cross between Debbie Harry, Frida from Abba, Dusty Springfield and Marlene Dietrich, all crossed with a hint of Phil Spector though it’s not so much a wall of sound, more a small barrier. If anything it's a homage to the pre-Beatles girl groups, just the sort of thing that drew John towards his vocation in life. There are hints of Stephen Foster (‘Irish Spring’), fifties musicals (‘Petticoat Lane’) and film noire (‘A Gangster’s Moll’) and, as you would expect from a subversive character like John, the lyrics on those songs that avoid matters of the heart deal with his pet peeves: organised religion (‘The Jesus Who Loves Me’ and ‘Aqmed’) and Trump/Fox News (‘When The Monsters Smothered In His Sleep’). Also, oddly, the cock crowing on ‘The Hired Hand’, a song about menial servitude, sounds like it was sampled from the beginning of The Beatles ‘Good Morning’ on Pepper.
         It’s all lots of fun, even if the backing tracks get a bit repetitive after a while. Still, that’s more than compensated for by the lingering taste of Dame Zelda’s haunting vocals. In a note to me last week John, delivered in his characteristic brand of sardonic tongue-in-cheekness, John suggested I use the phrase, ‘A work of life-transforming brilliance no home should be without’, which is going a bit far but I couldn’t help thinking how different his life would have been if only he’d said that about Led Zeppelin II.

A taste of The Internettes can be found here, along with a helpful pictorial guide to their influences:

5.3.20

THE OX: THE LAST OF THE GREAT ROCK STARS. THE AUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN ENTWISTLE by Paul Rees


In 1990 John Entwistle spent two months in the region of Connemara on the west coast of Ireland where fierce winds coming off the Atlantic soon blew away any traces of last night’s old red wine. Here, in a stone house that was once the home of an archbishop, he began to write his life story, in longhand on A4 lined paper. He never finished the task and it remained unpublished during his lifetime but the tenor of what he wrote, in equal measure amusing, cynical and bitter, hangs over this biography like a dark thundercloud.
         For all his wealth, acclaim and success John Entwistle was not a contented man. His dissatisfaction stemmed from issues he never felt able to enunciate, and it saw him retreat into himself, chasing his demons in ways that did him no good at all: booze, drugs, women, bad diets, reckless shopping sprees and an obstinacy that translated into denial. Many interviewees for this book – and they include both his ex-wives and son, as well as many musician friends – all seemed incapable of confronting him about these matters simply because, in his dealings with and without The Who, his natural instinct was always to avoid confrontations.
         All of this contributes to a deep, persistent melancholia in the life of John Entwistle as conveyed by former Q editor Paul Rees. Less conspicuous than his colleagues in The Who but no less fascinating, Entwistle remained a distant, reserved figure to many, a character trait reinforced by the high profile antics of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon. In this way, his story echoes what might be termed ‘The Bassists’ Curse’ – to be undervalued, unfulfilled and frustrated – and along with much else this led indirectly to his death at the relatively young age of 57.
         While the The Who itself and the other three members have inspired books aplenty, Entwistle has until now lagged behind. The dilemma facing biographers of individual group members is in separating their subject from the group, and, with Entwistle’s peculiar nature only aggravating the situation, it is no surprise that the book suggests there were two Johns – John of The Who, and John of The Home. The former is the well-known Ox with the spider emblem around his neck, dapper, on the left of the stage, motionless save for fingers a blur on the long necks of his various basses, a rock star who dives eagerly into all the temptations that his calling offers him. The latter, however, is seemingly hewn from the same oak as The Kinks’ ‘Well Respected Man’. Off stage John Entwistle invariably behaves like an old-fashioned gentleman, well turned out, well spoken, and well mannered, a well-to-do professional man who lives his life by routines and loves a plate of fish and chips. The rot sets in when the two Johns start to merge. 
         The 344-page book is divided into three parts, the first about John’s early years, the second about The Who and his role within it, and the third his sad, ultimately tragic decline as Townshend and/or Daltrey put The Who on hold, leaving their brilliant bass guitarist to drift aimlessly. It came about after Rees wrote a profile of Entwistle for Classic Rock magazine for which he interviewed Alison, John’s childhood sweetheart and first wife, and Christopher, their son. The acquaintance made, Alison and Christopher co-operated with Rees when he proposed a full scale biography, and it is clear from its pages that their testimony, along with that of Maxene Harlow, John’s American second wife, was crucial to his research. Alison and Christopher also handed over John’s own text, enabling him to quote from it at will, and this helps the book enormously.
         The result is very readable, leaning more towards the fate of the overindulged, hedonistic rock star and his troubled life than the music he created. Those looking for an insight into Entwistle’s extraordinary bass technique will be disappointed; although Rees heaps plenty of praise on John’s extraordinary skills, he hasn’t spoken to other bass players about how John did what he did. A handful of musicians express their admiration for John’s work too, but there is no attempt to analyse it, Rees having evidently concluded that to do so would decelerate the book’s pace.
         John Entwistle’s early life was far from comfortable. An only child, he was 18 months old when his parents separated. He took an instant, everlasting dislike to his mother’s next partner and money was tight, which might explain why when he became rich he insisted on a preposterously high standard of living that would forever strain his finances. A naturally gifted musician, he inherited his talents from his parents and took lessons on the piano, then brass instruments and finally taught himself to play bass guitar because he liked the sound of Duane Eddy’s records. He took pleasure in making his first bass and thereafter immersed himself in the instrument, its makes, models and modes of amplification. His introduction to Townshend and, later, Daltrey, more or less tallies with all the other Who books I have, and The Who’s story is told – yet again (!) – in a breezy, competent fashion that differs from the rest only in that it benefits from John’s wry observations recorded in the text he wrote himself.
         It is no secret that they didn’t get on personally, and Rees spares no blushes in detailing the various fall outs. Daltrey doesn’t come out if it well, a bit of a grumpy old bugger; Townshend is usually in a world of his own, a surprisingly absent presence in the book; and Moon is as mad as a box of frogs, though it is the drummer with whom Entwistle bonds most easily, the pair sharing a love of practical jokes and disorderly behaviour. The impression is given that Entwistle often provoked Moon in this and that he felt it was his duty to protect him, as if Keith was the little brother John never had. Moon’s death clearly affected Entwistle more than he let on. “I saw vulnerability in John when Keith died,” says manager Bill Curbishley. “There was something taken away from him that couldn’t ever be put back.”
         A recurring theme up to this point is The Who’s precarious finances which didn’t stabilise until Tommy was a success. When real money arrived at last, all bar Daltrey were reckless spenders and Entwistle maintained his profligate ways until the very end, stockpiling possessions galore that filled his houses to the brim, even Quarwood, near Stow On The Wold in Gloucestershire, the gigantic pile he bought in 1976 and owned until his death. Rees contends that John’s collection of bass guitars was the biggest in the world.
         The crux for Entwistle came when Townshend brought the curtain down on The Who for the first time at the end of 1982. ‘To Entwistle, Townshend’s decision was a personal affront,’ writes Rees. ‘Initially, he was despairing, but soon enough this turned to a seething, burning resentment.’ “He would have toured and toured,” adds Curbishley. “That was his life.”
         Already dark, Entwistle’s life from this point onwards becomes a calamity of almost epic proportions. Outwardly buoyant but inwardly furious, he increases his consumption of all the poisons, chief among them brandy and cocaine, he’d happily ingested in The Who, confident that his physical strength can withstand it all. For a long time, far longer than Moon, this was the case but as we move from the eighties into the nineties it becomes clear that the only difference between Entwistle and Moon was that it took him an extra 24 years to kill himself.
            Serially promiscuous, John divorces Alison – who is heartbroken – and takes up with Maxene, a nice LA girl who before long realises that keeping up with John will kill her and joins AA, only for this to put a wedge between them. She is followed by Lisa, a bad LA girl, who matches John glass for glass and toke for toke and who is ultimately blamed, at least by Christopher, for killing his father. “It was Lisa that truly fucked him up,” he says. “And I hate her for what she did to him.”
         John’s tours with his own bands are covered extensively – as, throughout, are his solo recordings – but there is a nagging sense that he’s flogging a dead horse. The only respite from this descent into hell – as the red tops would have it – are those occasions when Townshend and Daltrey elect to reform The Who for various reasons, not least among them to shore up their finances. But no sooner is Entwistle back in the black than he’s on the phone to Harrods, his preferred retailer.
         Entwistle played his last show with The Who at London’s Royal Albert Hall on February 8, 2002, but it was comforting to be reminded that the last show he played with them in America – a country he loved – was in October 2001 at Madison Square Garden, the Concert For New York to recognise the firemen who died in 9/11, and that it was a triumph, one of the group’s best ever in the post-Moon era.
         As is well known, John Entwistle died alongside a good time girl on June 27, 2002, in Las Vegas from a heart attack induced not by the previous night’s consumption but by a lifetime of indulgence. There was a bit of unpleasantness in the aftermath, much of it caused by Lisa, but in a poignant Epilogue we join Alison and Christopher at a garden party in 2018, the pair of them sharing memories with old Who retainers of the man they remember as husband and father. “He was a very silly boy, but I loved him for years and years, and I didn’t stop loving him,” says the girl who knew him long before he was John of The Who. She preferred John of The Home and was, after all, just 13 when that 14-year-old boy began courting her.  
         Finally, the book is well indexed, lacks a discography and I’m not too keen on the cover which looks a bit washed out to me. The cover of the US edition, below, is far better.


        

1.3.20

JETHRO SPLIT… OR NOT. A NEW DAY YESTERDAY by Mike Barnes, book extract.


In this extract from Mike Barnes’ new book A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & The 1970s, Mike reveals how the manager of Jethro Tull and editor of Melody Maker concocted a fake news story long before present day politicians.
         The 600-page book, published last week by Omnibus Press and edited by yours truly, examines the myths and misconceptions surrounding prog rock. Mike paints a vivid and at times amusing picture of the Seventies and the milieu which enabled prog to thrive and, in some cases, throw up groups like Pink Floyd and Genesis who went on to long-lasting international and commercial success.
         It is 1972 and Jethro Tull are smarting from criticism aimed at their album Thick As A Brick. However, whatever barbs caused the group to chafe over these reviews was nothing compared to what would happen when their next LP landed on reviewers’ desks.


The press were now primed for Jethro Tull’s increasing ambitions, and the overall critical view of the equally ambitious A Passion Play would be almost universally negative. And with hindsight this is much easier to understand.
         A Passion Play is basically a concept album about a recently deceased person (Ronnie Pilgrim) and his journey through the afterlife. This has come to light more recently, but at the time it came across like an ill thought out mystery film, where the audience is fed cryptic clues as if when they all fit together, but at the completion of the puzzle some pieces don’t quite fit and others seem to have become lost, leaving everyone scratching their heads.
         And, indeed, the album was intended to be made into a film, but that venture fell through, although video footage was shown during the group’s live shows. The album has its many champions and was again number one in the US and number 13 in the UK. It was also critically savaged.
         Lyrically, Thick As A Brick was at least partially comprehensible and poetically quite attractive. A Passion Play has some interesting imagery, but is less comprehensible. But all that could be forgiven if the music had been of better quality. There were times on Thick As A Brick when its complexity seemed a tad gratuitous. But that was nothing compared to its successor, where everything feels over ornamented in a way that both fails to serve the song-sections and produces a huge accretion of detail that quickly becomes wearisome. Some parts are impressive – the ‘Overseer Overture’ in particular – but if ever a Seventies progressive rock album warranted a panning for being over-wrought, this is the one.
         It includes a faux children’s tale, ‘The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles’. This was meant to serve as light relief – and its chamber ensemble backing is quite sweet – but the recitation, with its groan-inducing punch line “The hare had a spare pair” delivered by Jeffrey Hammond in a toe-curling, exaggerated comedy Northern accent, makes one so glad that it’s over that for a minute or two, it’s actually a relief to be plunged back into more of the brain-curdling bombast.
         But why was it all so indigestibly over-egged? Ian Anderson offers these views: “It’s a pain in the arse,” he admits. “There is just too much going on, but it was done with a cheerful innocence. Not only I, but members of the band, would come up with ideas of layering things and complex rhythms that were demanding on the ear. We all got carried away and as a record producer, I should have had more discipline and taken a bunch of stuff out of the arrangements.
         “But it was difficult to tell enthusiastic musicians in a band, to ‘just play 4/4 drums through this [section]’. You feel like you are hampering somebody and taking something away from them, because they want to be creative and do something interesting.
         “But I would be the first person to say – and I knew this pretty soon on as when we started playing it live on stage – there is too much stuff happening; it’s too incessant. There are sections where the music opens right out, and there are quiet and rather stark passages that are slower and more open but when the band come crashing in it does tend to get a bit daunting.” He also picks out his “bloody saxophones” as something the album could have done without.
         Anderson’s relationship with the music press always seemed uneasy, especially around this time, but now seems to have become rather ameliorated through the passing of time.
         “It wasn’t uneasy on my part,” he asserts. “It was just that people understandably couldn’t be supportive if they didn’t’ like something that you did or they felt that your time had come and gone, and they shouldn’t be in hock to your record company or you just because you were pals.
         “So for example Chris Welch of Melody Maker decided that he’d be supportive of us, but had to be seen to be an independent mind, dish out some bad reviews and not be tarnished with the idea that you were somehow a tame journalist.”
         Steven Rosen of American magazine Circus spoke to Anderson in 1975, by which time Jethro Tull had been generally accepted back into the critical fold. But it exemplifies the power of music journalists who could dish it out and then retreat back to their bunkers. Readers who sent letters into the Gasbag page in New Musical Express would almost inevitably end up slightly humiliated as the more articulate, older journalist editing the column would always have the last word. Anderson clearly found all this frustrating. One needs to recall that he was, at this time, only a young man thrust into the spotlight and trying to make sense of the dichotomy between huge sales and critical opprobrium.
         “If somebody says, ‘I think your music is shitty’, that’s like saying, ‘I think your wife’s a whore’,”, he told Rosen. “And I get very angry when people say that behind my back or via the unassailable media of the press. Because I’m not in a position to defend it and I won’t be brought out or taunted by public criticism into answering it back in the same medium. Because I can never win, I’m not a journalist, and I’m not in a position to see that my words remain undistorted or in the true context when they finally appear in print… I have a fairly low opinion of the press because I think it plays way below the average level of intelligence of the audience who reads it.”
         Record companies spent a considerable amount of money taking journalists on a press junkets in the hope of good reviews. Chris Welch recalls being flown to Tokyo in 1972 by Island Records to see Emerson, Lake & Palmer, where he saw the rivalry between Progressive rock’s rising stars at first hand:
         “We arrived at the Hilton Hotel in Tokyo and just as we walked in – Keith [Emerson], Carl [Palmer] and myself, and a photographer – through the other glass doors came Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. They were playing a concert in Tokyo that night, and because we were at the Hilton, Ian Anderson took one look at them, said, ‘I’m not saying at the Hilton with ELP’, turned around and stormed out. They walked out and booked themselves into another hotel. It was exactly like Spinal Tap.”
         Welch’s album review of A Passion Play and assessment of Jethro Tull’s live show live show were both critical, but seem fair and considered. Speaking to the journalist now there is no sense that he suddenly felt obliged to mete out a panning. Fellow Melody Maker writer Chris Charlesworth offers a second opinion: “I sat next to Chris Welch during A Passion Play at the Empire Pool. We were both bored stiff. The audience was bored too, and were making paper darts out of the programme and flying them around.”  
         What happened next was the single most bizarre outcome of a clash between the music press and a group. Jethro Tull announced their retirement.
         Jethro Tull’s manager Terry Ellis told Rob Partridge, news editor at of Melody Maker, that his charges were retiring due to the “abuse” that they had received from critics
         “I say abuse and I mean abuse – it certainly wasn’t fair criticism. In a lot of cases critics have been taking advantage of their unassailable position to be abusive,” he told MM.
         “Ian Anderson is extremely brought down by it all. When he reads in the music papers ‘Passion Play is bad’ he feels terrible, his life is music. The abuse is psychologically wearing him down and he feels it’s not fair to perform under this pressure.”
         In their statement last week the band announced their retirement would be for an indefinite period. But how long is “indefinite?”
         “If I could say one month or even 10 years, it would be a definite period.”
         At the time fans didn’t know what to make of it. This hugely popular band suddenly seemed revealed as a bunch of cry-babies because some people had the temerity to point out to them that A Passion Play was such a towering folly.
         “This gave the impression that the band had broken up and I was somehow responsible,” Welch explains. “The MM ran a ‘shock’ front page news story about the decision. It wasn’t until some years later I learned that the story had been the result of deal between MM editor Ray Coleman and Tull manager Terry Ellis, without reference to me. As it turned out JT came back with a new album War Child a year later in 1974 and announced a long world tour to promote it. My feelings about it all? Well, I was surprised the editor felt greater loyalty to the music biz than to his staff but at least I hadn’t upset Peter Grant and Led Zeppelin and caused them to ’break up.’ That could have been rather more awkward.”
         Anderson had been cited as being part of the perpetrators of this story, but he puts the blame squarely on Ellis and Coleman and opines now that the whole scam was “ridiculous”.

25.2.20

THE LEGENDARY SAM COOKE



Prompted by a discussion on a Rock’s Back Pages podcast, for the past week or two I have immersed myself in the music of Sam Cooke, and not for the first time.
         I recall first hearing Sam on the juke box in a coffee bar in Skipton, my home town, when I was about 12 and big on Elvis, Buddy and the Everlys. I liked Little Richard and Chuck Berry too, but Cooke was the first black singer that really got to me as a singer and not just as a rock’n’roller, which he wasn’t anyway. He was a gospel singer who moved into pop and in so doing became an innovator of soul music. ‘Only Sixteen’, ‘Wonderful World’ and ‘Cupid’ were pop songs, beautifully sung, as sweet as anything I’d ever heard, and I bought them as 7” singles on HMV and RCA. All the rest of the singles I bought, or was given, in those days were chosen because I liked the song or the performer but with Sam Cooke it was simply because I loved the sound of his voice, the way he seemed to float through the words and incorporate a sort of spontaneous yodel at the end of a line, a ‘whoa-ho-ho-wo’ signature phrase that I’ve never heard anywhere else.  
         A year or two later I bought ‘Twistin’ The Night Away’ too, and then The Beatles arrived and Sam got killed so I forgot all about him until one evening in 1974 when I was in my apartment in New York watching TV. Up popped an ad for The Legendary Sam Cooke, a triple-LP vinyl set, so I sent off for it, enclosing a cheque for something like $3.99. It was the first Sam Cooke album I’d ever bought, one of a handful of records I actually did buy in those days since my job as MM’s US editor brought an avalanche of free records on an almost daily basis.
         As soon as The Legendary Sam Cooke arrived I put disc one on my turntable and was drawn back to Sam and my old coffee bar, and I played the hell out of all three discs for the next year or two, often quietly in the background as I was writing or reading. In December 1975 I interviewed Bobby Womack who was once a protégé of Cooke, playing in his band and – scandalously – marrying his widow within three months of Cooke’s death. The interview was mainly about Womack’s brief association with The Faces, led by Cooke aficionado Rod Stewart of course, and I felt reluctant to mention Cooke to Womack, as if I was digging up something he might not want to talk about. In the event he talked a bit about Sam without me having to prompt him.
         The RBP Podcast led me to buy Peter Guralnick’s book Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, a masterly biography of the singer that I finished reading last weekend, and as read it I listened again to Cooke’s music, this time on the three-CD set The Essential Sam Cooke, which I’d had for years, and two CDs I bought while reading, one by The Soul Stirrers, the gospel sextet for whom Cooke sang before he turned to secular music, and Live At The Harlem Square Club where his band featured the great King Curtis on sax. In truth no two Sam Cooke records could be so different, from the sacred to the profane in one giant leap. In some ways Sam’s voice had toughened up by 1963, when the live album was recorded, but then again it seems to me that as he matured Sam employed a different, raspier, voice on stage than he did in the studio. This, the live voice, is the one that so influenced Rod. “Who knows, if there weren’t a Sam, there might not have been a Rod,” he writes on the reverse of the CD’s most recent package.
         Dream Boogie reveals that although Sam was the son of a pastor he was no saint. He fathered several children before he married (twice). He liked his whiskey and his women but he wasn’t into drugs. He was careless with his money, too generous to friends, but was an uncompromising perfectionist in the studio, taking immense care over his recordings, take after take, which are analysed in great depth by Guralnick. He wrote most of his own hits, usually on an acoustic guitar, and soon realised the benefits of controlling his own music publishing. He had interesting encounters with Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammed Ali), Malcolm X, Jackie Wilson and others singers of the era. Elvis was a fan and once talked to LC, Sam’s brother, about Sam, “for 20 minutes. He knew his gospel music”.
         The book also reveals that my old editor at Melody Maker, Ray Coleman, in New York in June 1964 to cover Sam’s opening at the Copacabana, encountered a slightly tipsy Sam in the bar at the Warwick Hotel. “The Beatles are clever. They sell emotion,” he told Ray. Sam was among the first to predict – and welcome – the British Invasion. When I interviewed Bobby Womack I asked him about the Stones’ recording of ‘It’s All Over Now’ which Womack wrote for his group The Valentinos. “Y'know... I didn't dig it at all when I knew the Stones were doing that song,” he told me, confirming what Guralnik has written. “That was my first record and it was a hit and I didn’t want to know about no cover version. It was Sam Cooke that told me and he was happy because he had the publishing, but I didn't care about the Rolling Stones... no... I said, ‘Let them get their own songs together man’ but they did it and I didn’t understand why Sam was happy until I got the first cheque.”
         I never knew Ray had met Sam and if I had I’d have asked him about it.
         I did know that in the last year of his life Sam’s business affairs became managed by Allen Klein who was brought on board to straighten out Sam’s tangled finances. Klein managed to extract money that was owed to Sam and seems to have loved him like a son, and Guralnick steers well clear of any conspiracy theories that suggest his tragic death at the age of 33 was anything other than the outcome of a chain of unwise but disastrous circumstances. Sam changed labels, from Specialty to Keen to RCA, breaking contracts in the process, and was involved in lawsuits with disgruntled label owners. He could be abrupt, occasionally short-tempered, and he no doubt upset a few people by insisting on following his own path, managing his career the way he wanted to, but he didn’t make enemies to the extent that they might have wanted him dead. He was too nice a man for that. 
         Running parallel to Sam’s story in Dream Boogie is the best account of life on the chitlin’ circuit – the clubs where black musicians earned their living, usually in cash – that I’ve read anywhere, and also the gospel circuit where women were especially welcoming to the many competing vocal groups that praised the Lord in song. The book is also littered with instances of racism directed at Sam and other black performers during an era when segregation and brutality were rife, especially in the southern states. It was this ugly aspect of life in America for people of colour that gave birth to what is nowadays regarded as Sam’s masterpiece, the sublime ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, inspired by Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have Dream’ speech at Washington DC in August 1963, which became an anthem of the Civil Right Movement, covered by many.
         But over and above these subplots in the all too short life of Sam Cooke, what all this listening and research has done is to impress on me yet again that he really was the greatest soul singer who ever lived. I didn’t know that when I was 12, only that I loved his voice, a voice that still charms me over 60 years later.

14.2.20

BRYAN FERRY – LIVE AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL, 1974




Viewed at first with some suspicion by traditionalists, the Roxy Music project began as a hybrid that updated old influences while forging ahead into unexplored areas of music, style and ideas that shifted the same axis David Bowie was tilting, albeit without quite the same extravagant allure. Roxy were sharp operators who attracted the interest of Melody Maker by sending a demo tape of their songs to our assistant editor Richard Williams, then also the presenter of BBC2’s Old Grey Whistle Test, before they’d even signed to Island Records. Liking what he heard, Richard took an interest in their career that boosted their fortunes but the truth is we were all captivated by their flair and ingenuity. (Indeed, it was Richard's review of this album on his The Blue Moment blog, that alerted me to its merits.) 
         It is sometimes forgotten that Eno was a core member of the original Roxy quintet but when he quit after their second album to develop his own peculiar strand of music-making, it was only a matter of time before Bryan Ferry, their equally distinctive lead singer, did something similar, though in his case it was to follow a solo career parallel to his work with the group.
         On the evidence of this terrific, high-energy live album, recorded soon after Ferry declared his independence, it was a sensible move. Whatever else they might be accused of, Roxy never lacked good taste in musical influences, and Ferry’s choice of material on this set suggests that he was largely the architect of this. Captured during his three-night stint at London’s RAH in December 1974, it is notable not just for the exceptional playing by the group of skilled musicians he assembled to back him up but also for the varied, personal and impeccable songs, all bar two of them covers, he chose to perform.
         Two years into his career as Roxy’s languid, lounge-lizardish lead singer, Ferry might have been expected to adopt the persona of a crooner in his solo efforts, updating the Sinatra-Como-Bennet songbook with revisions based on the electronic touch that Eno brought to the first Roxy album and his own dreamy, slippery vocal styling. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. He might have dressed in a tuxedo but he was more Elvis than Sinatra, offering up a full-tilt rock’n’roll show, its momentum decelerating only for his elegant interpretations of the two oldest songs in the set, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ (from 1933) and ‘These Foolish Things’ (1935).


         Nine of the album’s 14 tracks come from Ferry’s first solo album These Foolish Things, released in 1973, four from his second Another Time Another Place (1974), with one, ‘A Really Good Time’, from Roxy’s Country Life LP, the only nod to his day job. 
         The musicians launch into the opener, ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, with more ferocity but less subdued menace than The Rolling Stones and it’s clear from the sinewy guitar fills, played by either John Porter or Phil Manzanera, and the enthusiasm of backing vocalists Vicki Brown, Doreen Chanter and Helen Chappell, that sitting down at the RAH that night was optional. Thereafter my preferred tracks include a snappy ‘Baby I Don’t Care’, the Elvis song whose rumbling bass line is perfectly reproduced by John Wetton; ‘Don’t Worry Baby’, Brian Wilson’s medium-paced and oh so lovely redemptive song; ‘The Tracks Of My Tears’, Smokey’s much covered Motown R&B hit; and ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, the Dylan song given a similar angry reading to that of its composer. The Roxy ballad ‘A Really Good Time’ flaunts the same ominous discords as the group version and delivers the same punch, a warning about a surfeit of pleasure, with sinister foreboding. Sequencing it right before ‘The In Crowd’ was no doubt deliberate. Nevertheless, it’s hard to differentiate between tracks as the energy level is maintained throughout, a reflection on the muscularity of the band that also includes Eddie Jobson on keyboards and Paul Thompson on drums.
         Packaged in a handsome booklet that contains top quality black and white pictures from the concert and an unusually literate essay by Roxy’s policy advisor Simon Puxley*, the album is a reminder that Bryan Ferry was a potent if slightly disquieting presence on the UK’s music scene before his social ambitions moved in the same direction as Joe Lampton in Room At The Top.

 The photograph was scanned from the CD booklet. 



* Simon Puxley, who died in 1999, was a PhD and one of only two writers who did a runner on me while I was commissioning editor at Omnibus Press. An amiable if absent-minded intellectual, he took an advance to write a book on The Pretenders. I never saw him again. When I couldn’t reach him by phone I called round at the address in Shepherd’s Bush he’d given on the contract. The door was answered by his wife. “If you find him tell the fucker not to return here if he values his life,” she said, or words to that effect.

12.2.20

DR FEELGOOD AT THE ORANGE FESTIVAL, FRANCE, August, 1975.


Stationed in New York for most of 1975 and all of 1976 I missed UK punk but felt its blast from The Ramones and their ilk down at CBGBs. Nevertheless I caught a whiff of what was happening in the UK in August of 1975 when, briefly relieved of my job as Melody Maker’s US Editor, I was exposed to Dr Feelgood during a three-day festival that MM editor Ray Coleman sent me to cover at Orange, near Avignon in France.
         Staged in a spectacular Roman amphitheatre where gladiators once fought, it promised much but delivered less due to several star name no-shows, bands running late and interminable delays between sets. Coupled with the hard stone seats, it’s not surprising there were outbreaks of ill-feeling amidst the crowd. Still, a few incidents stick in my memory and I was reminded of my trip to Orange when the other day I chanced on my review of the Feelgoods on the website Rock’s Back Pages, of which more later. 


         I recall watching a set by Fairport Convention but whatever enjoyment I felt was tempered by an altercation I’d had earlier in the day with their bass player Dave Pegg in the backstage bar. Pegg, not in the first flush of sobriety, took exception to an MM review of his group’s last LP, and decided to vent his spleen by pouring a pint of beer over my head. I too had drink taken and this emboldened me to retaliate, not least because I wasn’t the author of the review that had so inflamed him. So I bought a pint and went over to where Pegg was sitting and poured it over his head. He was restrained from thumping me by others in his party. I think we made up later.
         The Fairports appeared on the first evening of the Festival, a Friday, and they were followed on stage by John Cale who was billed to appear with Nico. In the event Nico elected to perform solo later in the evening, but I liked Cale whose acquaintance I’d made in New York. I also felt that he, and not Lou Reed, was the key musician in the Velvets. Idiosyncratic to a tee, Cale wore what today would be called a onesie, loose and unbuttoned to the waist, and after his set he walked straight off stage and carried on walking, striding purposefully past everyone backstage, out of the arena, up a hill and on into the town. I alone decided to follow him, maybe 20 or 30 yards or so behind, curious as to his intentions. When he reached the town he went into a bar, ordered a drink and sat down. He was still dressed in his distinctive stage wear but no one gave him a second thought, so I went into the same bar, ordered a beer and sat down alongside him.

John Cale on stage at Orange

         “Hello Chris. What are you doing here?”
         “Hello John. Taking a break from New York. I enjoyed your set.”
         “Thanks.”
         “Er, what’s with leaving the arena and heading straight for this bar.”
         “I didn’t like the crowds backstage.”
         “Fair enough. I didn’t like them much either. I have to go back though. I’m supposed to be covering the show for MM.”
         “Rather you than me. You don’t have any money do you? I forgot to grab some on my way out.”
         I handed John a few francs. “Thanks. Bye.”
         “Bye John.”
         I walked back to the arena, which wasn’t far, but was refused entry by the guardian of the backstage door who didn’t believe I was from MM. Fortunately my plight was noticed by Patsy Collins, who worked for Artists Services, bodyguards to the stars, who knew me from past encounters, and he eased my entry in a manner that comes naturally to straight-talking Cockneys built like brick shithouses. That night he was working for Bad Company, the headliners, whose customary professional but rather predictable set was sadly diminished by a surfeit of the local speciality, full-bodied red wine. I heard later that some of their entourage were involved in a bust-up in a restaurant in the town. No doubt Patsy sorted it out.
         Back at the festival the following morning I was wondering what the day would bring after yesterday’s adventures. I wasn’t to know it but I was to be knocked sideways by an act I hadn’t seen before, so to finish this little post I’ll quote my MM review verbatim:

Wilko and Lee on stage at Orange

         On paper, Saturday night looked to be the least attractive evening of the festival but it was, in fact, a triumph for Dr Feelgood, who received the biggest ovation of any act throughout the three days. Unfortunately, I missed John Martyn's opening set, but the general consensus of opinion was good by the time I arrived and the Feelgoods took the stage.
         The band, who had flown over in a small plane chartered by the festival promoters, were an absolute knock-out, providing an object lesson to bands who flounder in complexity for complexity's sake.
         The Feelgoods were so damn simple you just had to prick up your ears and listen as three-minute (!) songs were punched out with fire and drive and a certain amount of self-parody.
         The crowd erupted as they thundered along, never hesitating for a second, like an express train on a quick inter-city route. 'Doctor Feelgood' itself brought the audience to their feet, and they stayed up for the closing sequence of 'I'm A Hog For You Baby', 'There's A Riot Goin' On' and the closer 'Route 66'.
         For five minutes they cheered, but the Feelgoods never returned, and when the crew began to dismantle their equipment the cheers turned to hostile jeers and whistles. Procol Harum had the unenviable task of following, but the immediate danger was forestalled with a seemingly interminable pause between the two acts.
         Thus, when Procol finally appeared, well over an hour after Dr. Feelgood left, they were welcomed with a certain feeling of relief.

The next day, the Sunday, Lou Reed failed to appear which was a shame as I’d like to have contrasted his set with John Cale’s. Even better would have been them appearing together, but I’d have to wait until 1993 to see that.  

All images sourced from the internet.

8.2.20

SLADE SPLIT!


I was disappointed to learn last week that Slade have finally split up – after 50 years together according to The Sun, the newspaper of record for those with short memories. Other papers have carried the story but theres nothing like Britains best-selling red top tabloid to get to the heart of the matter, and it would be remiss of me, their official biographer, not to comment. 
         Firstly, along with the group themselves, their many fans and probably everyone else not employed on The Sun’s news desk, I had been under the clearly mistaken impression that they split up about 30 years ago. The precise date of their disbandment is hard to pin down insofar as it was a gradual separation but Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell last played a (paying) gig together in 1984, and since then – apart from that Fan Club appearance in April, 1991, at Walsall Town Hall, undertaken in somewhat fraught circumstances – the group has been absent from the stage. New recordings by them had also petered out by then, though odd releases under a variety of combinations and aliases continued to appear.
         Secondly, that quartet first teamed up as The ‘N Betweens in 1966, so that’s 54 years ago and not 50 as The Sun would have you believe.
         Now that that’s been cleared up, I feel duty bound to explain that the reason for Slade’s sudden and needlessly sensational re-appearance in the headlines is that guitarist Dave Hill has apparently dispensed with the services of drummer Don Powell in his group Slade II, a pronouncement greeted with dismay by fans, not least because Hill informed Powell of his decision via e-mail. This is a sad state of affairs when you consider that Hill and Powell first played together back in 1964 in a Midlands group called The Vendors.
         It is evidently Hill’s intention to continue to promote himself as Slade II with three other (waged) musicians, while Powell has signalled his intention to form a new group, which will include at least one defector from Slade II, and call it Don Powell’s Slade. No one but a die-hard curmudgeon would wish Don – one of the most amiable men it’s been my pleasure to know – all the best in this venture. I wish I could say the same for Hill.
         Having two groups with the same or similar generic-style name led by former members of the mothership is nothing new. Yes managed it, as did The Searchers and a few others from the beat boom of the 1960s, not to mention countless black vocal groups whose personnel fluctuates like the sexual inclinations of popular TV presenters. A clever lawyer could argue that Paul and Ringo have been doing the same thing with The Beatles for years now, but the standard of musicianship they apply is on a vastly different level to that of Hill, which leaves much to be desired, at least from what I’ve seen of Slade II on YouTube.
         I don’t think this will end happily. Don has evidently told Dave he cant continue to call his group Slade II, only Dave Hills Slade. Hill wont like that. Either way, absent Noddy Holder’s irreplaceable, sparkling voice and Jim Lea’s compositional and multi-instrumental skills, any 21st Century version of Slade lacks considerably more than 50% of its potency. Sadly, this seems not to be a consideration when the need earn a living is paramount.
         Which brings me to further revelations from our friends at The Sun. If they are to be believed – and I have my doubts – Noddy is worth £20 million and earns £250,000 a year from ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’, as does Jim whose fortune is not disclosed. I would imagine it is greater than Noddy’s, if for no other reason than, unlike Jim, Noddy is no longer married to his first wife and nothing diminishes a rock star’s wealth like a divorce. “While Noddy and Jim, 70, have been living in luxury, Dave and Don, 73, have been performing at Butlin’s and the festival circuit to make ends meet,” The Sun tells us. “The unglamorous venues are a far cry from the stages the rock icons graced in their heyday.”
         They got Noddy and Jim’s ages wrong but far worse, later in the story, was the sentence: “There were no scandals or tragic accidents [in their past] and they rarely touched drugs.” I would invite them to look up their back issue for July 4, 1973, and read Don’s book.
         I rest my case.